Aah, the 4-H fair. If you’ve been to one as a spectator, as a fried-food connoisseur, or as a ride-goer, then the fair is always something to look forward to, something that is pure childlike fun. If you are a 4-H’er, then you know this time of year as something a little different. It’s the time when your work of the past few months culminates into one day. It can be a tough week. But to say it’s just a tough week would be drastically selling it short. I would personally call this week, more than that…I would call it…magical.
Both of our girls decided to show birds this year. Our two ducks, Momo and Lulu, who have graced our home (including our bath tub) since February, would be entered into the Exhibition Duck competition. This can be a tough category, usually with several entries and tough standards. But the girls loved these birds and knew they wanted to show them.
And thus the hard part. These birds were loved. These birds have names. This is the fine line you walk when you raise animals that a)live outside, b)aren’t intended to be pets, and c)are intended to eventually be food. This is not easy, especially when you aren’t born into it. If you start this life knowing these animals you raise shouldn’t be named, that their main purpose is to feed your or someone else’s family, then I have heard it is easier. (I still find that slightly hard to swallow when I see a young man laying next to his beef cow in their 4-H barn.) But the longer we have lived here and the more animals we have raised, we have learned and gotten more used to this life cycle and we are grateful for it. We have always been meat eaters, buying from a local farmer or grocer. But now raising our own, we have a new appreciation and connection for these lives and the sanctity of the nourishment they provide.
I digress. Entering an animal into the fair competition gives you the option of putting that animal up for auction. It is entirely optional, with Maia last year basically forming a protective barrier around her Grand Champion Lulu. (“Don’t even look at her, people.”) And there are several factors that lie in the auction process. If you have a ribbon-winning animal, there is a good chance you can make a large sum of money at auction. And then of course, if you do put your animal up for auction, there is a good chance you will never see that animal again. And here is where I explain the alternative…there is a second option. There are several local businesses and benefactors that appreciate 4-H and the kids that participate. They know these kids work hard, they put early mornings in, and they want to help them. So they come to the auctions to bid on the animals, not to take them home, but as money for that 4-H’er. They have no interest in the animal – they are investing in our youth. When I found this out, the little hairs on the back of my arms stood up. Our girls get up early, they take care of these living creatures rain or shine. Do they love it? Not always. But they do it, knowing if they don’t, no one else will.
So, by hard work and good fortune, Maddie’s duck, Momo, won Grand Champion of her category. And knowing the prize money potentially involved, she decided to auction Momo. She weighed the risk, knowing he may not be coming home with us. After much thought, she decided to take the risk.
We begin our walk to the grand stand for the small animal auction.
We are walking to the grand stand for the small animal auction and when we arrive, I am immediately struck by the number of children who look barely school age, that are there to auction their rabbits and poultry. It is a resilience I did not have at that age and even now, have to muster.
Maia is holding it together at this point. She is not on board with this and has let Maddie know she is not on board with this. Maddie reassures her, it will all be fine, not knowing herself what is about to happen.
We arrive in the grand stand, getting ready to take our seats.
But I’ve left something out of the story up to this point.
Joe received a text message the previous night. A message from our neighbors. A message saying only, “So I guess we are buying a duck tomorrow night?”
Our dear, amazing, loving neighbors went to the fair. They spoke to a friend in the poultry barn, because Monroe County is small and when you live in the country, you are going to know a lot of people at the fair. They spoke to the auction director and the director mentioned that Momo was going up for auction.
Text message sent. Eyes tearing up.
We walk into the grand stand and see this:
Our neighbor speaking with the auctioneer.
We take our seats. Several animals are sold to the highest bidder. Then…
Momo and Maddie make their entrance. The auctioneer starts and it all moves quickly. Maia sitting with us doesn’t really process what is happening. Then it’s over. Sold to Number 12. She looks around. They are looking at her. And it hits her what just happened.
A lot happens at the 4-H fair. Some of it is hard. And some of it will make you cry, the love and beauty that happens between neighbors and community and kids that work so hard.
Maddie walks over, smile and a hug.
A long day and she is tired and ready to go home.
And Momo is coming with us.